Playhouse, QPAC, August 10
This is the second Expressions Dance Company (EDC) season of where the heart is in as many years. The multi-award winning work, which premiered in 2010, also at the Playhouse, was worth a second airing, according to its choreographer artistic director Natalie Weir.
While contemporary dance often resonates of the “now” and the “new”, condemning a work to impermanency, where the heart is plumbs into universal and timeless themes in a fusion of dance with drama and music that denotes neither specifics of time nor place. This alone assures the work’s relevance today.
Where the heart is explores the idea of family and how relationships within the family irrevocably shape our lives. A young man revisits his now abandoned childhood home and, like ghosts, his memories emerge from the very fabric of its now decaying walls.
The set is pivotal to the work and Bruce McKinven, a master at design for dance, creates the suggestion of an old weathered Queenslander of lattice and corrugated iron that unpacks to reveal different rooms, including a cellar from which the young man literally pulls the “memories” of his family. Costuming evokes a 1940s or 50s aesthetic adding muted colour to the grey monochrome set, and Matt Scott’s expressive lighting again unites the design elements into a cohesive whole.
The plaintive sound of a solo violin opens the work and immediately captures the spirit of nostalgic reminiscence that pervades throughout. As an echo of music once played in the home, John Rodger’s score, performed live by Marc Hannaford (piano), Christa Powell (strings), with vocalist Pearly Black, still captivates; broad in its range from folk to chamber, it enriches the narrative as the musicians, too, weave like ghosts around the periphery of the house.
The drama however, is primarily articulated through the dance and the movement is most expressive, ranging from the finely nuanced to the expansive and athletic, performed with dexterity and ease.
The cast has changed for this remount with three new male dancers joining the original female cast and this has subtly changed the dynamics of the work.
David Williams (alternating with Jack Ziesing) replaces Richard Causer who had dominated as the Young Man. Williams, who is technically assured with superbly extended line, delivers a more gentle interpretation of the role in a performance that nevertheless rises to the challenges of the role’s character.
Ziesing as the Brother, along with Samantha Mitchell, reprising her role as First Love (previously called Girl Next Door), and Williams, deliver a joyous trio of athletic lifts, convoluted throws and turns early in the work – its only upbeat moment. Mitchell has developed in her role, clearly showing the character’s emotional growth from young girl to lover, and Ziesing also delivers a strong performance as the son the mother perhaps prefers.
Riannon McLean (the Mother) has beautifully extended work, clean, clearly articulated and expressive. Her solo, to Black’s wailing vocals, dramatically encapsulates the heart wrenching torment of an abused wife.
Elise May, as the Grandmother, again gives a restrained, beautifully nuanced performance, encapsulating both wisdom and physical frailty of age.
However, it is Daryl Brandwood as the Father who dominates in this production, with a masterful portrayal of the weak but complex character – the lynchpin of this seemingly fractured, dysfunctional family. His solo, in which he literally climbs up and hangs off the walls, is one of tortured anguish. It leaves you breathless.
The duet work, a Weir forte, is masterful in its craftsmanship and execution. A powerful fight duet between Mclean and Brandwood and their equally powerful but poetic love duet shows the depth of this craftsmanship, honed over many years. Luscious movement sparsely forged, but replete with meaning.
Where the heart is concludes on an optimistic note of absolution and resolution. It promised much for EDC on its premiere in 2010 and continues to promise as a work of substance and longevity.
– DENISE RICHARDSON